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SEL & Why it Matters

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January 03, 2024


              Social Emotional Learning ~ The Missing Piece In ESSA Compliance

What is social and emotional learning?

            Social and Emotional Learning, or SEL, is a broad term. SEL is something most teachers have been doing on their own on some level for decades, out of necessity for their students. When you help your students work through a disagreement, work in a group, or talk about their problems you are participating in SEL. Social and Emotional Learning has five components:

Self-Awareness: This includes teaching students to be aware of their strengths, weaknesses, and emotions. It teaches them to have a growth mindset and to know their own goals and dreams.

Self-Management: This area includes teaching students to focus on what they can control and helping them learn to be stewards over their own emotions and actions.

Social Awareness: In this component, students learn to take others’ perspectives and embrace diversity.

Relationship Skills: This area covers communication skills as well as learning to negotiate and handle conflict with others.

Responsible Decision Making: Students learn to control impulses, make thoughtful decisions, as well as consider the long-term impacts of their decisions on themselves and others.

Why SEL? (Don’t we have enough to teach already?)

If teachers are already incorporating SEL, why do we need to worry about formally teaching it in the classroom? The benefits of formally teaching SEL are many. SEL supports all the other subjects. It helps students focus on their learning and gives them the tools to succeed not only in school but in life. Teaching SEL isn’t something we do for a half hour on Tuesday afternoons. It permeates everything we do in teaching. When done well it becomes the foundation for all other learning.

SEL skills are all skills that students need to have to be successful in life. Of course, the subjects we teach are important, but even if a student can read well, or has a great grasp of math concepts and tests highest in the class, if they can’t control their impulses, get along with others, or make responsible decisions there is no setting in which they’ll be successful apply the skills they have learned.

SEL can also help your school meet the requirements put forth in the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA.) While the ESSA doesn’t mandate SEL teaching, it does provide funding to help promote SEL funding. The ESSA gives “a broader definition of student success. ESSA allows more flexibility to states and local school districts in defining and assessing student success. As part of a state’s newly designed accountability system, at least one additional “nonacademic” indicator of school quality/student success is now allowed. Indicators must be valid, comparable, reliable, and statewide. Student engagement, school climate, and safety, for example, could be among the indicators.”  (https://casel.org/every-student-succeeds-act-essa/) With all the benefits of SEL, it’s great to take advantage of this funding! Programs do have to be evidence-based in order to qualify.

Key SEL Skills: There are 7 key skills that students learn through SEL. These include:

Empathy: Empathy is necessary for the workplace and future relationships. Empathetic people are more enjoyable to be around and they are happier. They relate well to others, work well in groups, and have more fulfilling home lives. Empathetic children make great students. When children have empathy, a skill that is still developing for almost all children, they are better able to work through problems with their peers.

Impulse Control: Often seen as a skill that you have or you don’t, this also develops over time, but only out of necessity. Some kids learn impulse control easily while others struggle. This can be developed when kids start to see the benefits of delaying gratification. Impulse control is extremely vital later in life, in areas including work, healthy eating, money, and more. Structure and consistency help lead to better impulse control from students. When their lives are steady and consistent they will tend to follow that pattern. If their lives are random and haphazard their decision making will be too.

Emotion Recognition: Happy, sad, mad; almost all children can identify these basic emotions, but emotion is nuanced. We sometimes feel mad, but more specifically frustrated, agitated, or annoyed. Sometimes we feel sad, or rather, devastated, melancholy, or disappointed. Another complication is layers of emotion. Children might feel jealous of a peer but that jealousy is masked as anger because anger is easier for the child to deal with.

Emotion Management: Recognizing emotions is half the battle, but managing them is equally important. The BeCool series teaches kids not to explode with anger or to ignore their feelings but rather to learn to identify and manage their feelings in healthy ways. Managing emotions is a vital skill and one that precludes many other social and emotional skills. For example,  If students can’t manage their emotions it is difficult for them to control their impulses.

Communication: Communication is a skill that is becoming more and more difficult for students. Just the other day I saw a billboard advertising a text-in option for a doctor for those that dislike talking on the phone. These days our students do most of their communication via text, even when they are in the same room as the person they are texting! Texting works fine for sharing memes, casual conversations, and making plans, but it isn’t the greatest medium for solving problems or getting support. It’s a guarantee that students will need face-to-face and phone communication skills when they enter the workforce. For example, what job conducts interviews or offers a job via text?

Assertiveness: So much of communication students see these days modeled for them (especially in the media) is either aggressive, passive, or passive-aggressive. All three of these forms of communication are unhealthy and ineffective. Assertiveness will serve students well. When we communicate effectively by being assertive it grows our self-esteem and we have a better chance of getting what we want and need. Assertive communication also breeds empathy. You can probably see by now that none of these skills are islands; they are all interconnected with each other.  

Problem Solving: The point of applying all other skills culminates in problem-solving. When students can control their emotions and impulses, communicate effectively and assertively, and use empathy, they can solve problems in mutually beneficial ways. Any process that requires the application of multiple skill sets is going to be a challenge for kids to accomplish. The Be Cool series walks students through the steps for effective problem-solving in a way that isn’t overwhelming and is fun and engaging.

How Do We Teach SEL in the classroom?

What are the best ways for students to learn these skills? Luckily for us and them, they can learn through watching others. Of course, some things are learned by experience, but experience is often a painful teacher, and sometimes, if a student doesn’t have someone to coach them through it, an ineffective one. That’s what makes our curriculum so amazing for SEL. Kids can view real-life scenarios in the VideoModeling system. “VideoModeling” refers to the use of professional actors to “model” appropriate and inappropriate responses to common interpersonal, social and work situations. The performances of the Video Models, as well as the positive or negative reactions of supporting players are highly scripted and edited to promote “vicarious” social skill learning to occur.

In this way, students can learn through others’ ‘mistakes.’ Now, just viewing others’ mistakes and how they fix them on its own is fairly effective, but our Stanfield curriculum goes a step further and incorporates relatability and humor so that kids can easily begin to incorporate new skills into their lives.

Have you ever used curriculum and when reading through the suggest activities it becomes readily apparent that it was most likely written by someone who probably only set foot in a classroom for their own education? That is most definitely not the case here. James Stanfield, the founder, started out as a classroom teacher in LA county schools, working with kids from all different backgrounds. He’s been in the trenches and he knows what teachers are looking for in curriculum. Another frustration by teachers with curriculum is having it be outdated. This year my ELL curriculum wanted me to teach how to find a video in a video store. My daughter read a story in her English class titled discussing the possibility of having an item be able to verbally give you directions at the touch of a button rather than using a map (yes, GPS.) Stanfield keeps their curriculum fresh and up to date, addressing the needs of our ever-changing world of technology.

Two of our series really fit the bill when it comes to SEL learning:

Be Cool Series: The Be Cool series promotes conflict resolution skills. Kids learn not to be ‘hot’ (explode) not to be cold (passive) but to be cool, or rather to be assertive and stand up for themselves. They learn to identify and manage emotions, communicate effectively, and problem solve. The curriculum uses humor and fun to make it engaging and memorable.

Circles: The Circles series focuses heavily on SEL through using VideoModeling. The series has three programs: social and relationship boundaries, interpersonal skills, and relationship-specific social Through this series students learn to be assertive, to manage emotions, how to navigate social situations and build positive relationships with others.

Besides these two curriculum sets, all our curriculum has SEL in mind and is interwoven throughout the curriculum.

In conclusion, we think it’s so important to continue and better SEL education. If you are looking to implement more SEL into your curriculum, give us a call and speak with a curriculum specialist. We are happy to help!


By: Amy Curletto 

Amy has been teaching for 12 years in grades K-2. She has a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood and Elementary Education and also has endorsements in reading and ESL. Besides education, her other passion is writing and she has always dreamed of being a writer. She lives in Utah with her husband, her 3 daughters, and her miniature schnauzer. She enjoys reading, knitting, and camping.

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